Six Nations 2016 - Wales vs France: Guy Noves seeks to revive hip-swinging French flair to break Wales hoodoo

Coach aiming to prevent fifth straight Welsh victory when sides meet in Cardiff tonight

Much has been made of French flair or rather the distinct lack of it in Six Nations present and past.

It is flair that Guy Novès has pledged to uncover if it still truly exists among Les Bleus but on taking up his post in the wake of the World Cup he made it clear it was no quick fix. “I haven’t arrived, as some people say, like Zorro or with a magic wand,” he had said.

Whatever the eventual outcome, any perceived lack of swashbuckling zip and zing is not a new phenomenon. There is a telling statistic that France have only crossed the Wales try-line once in nearly seven hours of rugby between the two sides and those matches span both the tenure of Philippe Saint-André and the end of Marc Lièvremont’s reign before him.

Recent history has not been kind to those of a Gallic persuasion, with Wales aiming for a fifth straight victory against France.

And so to another Friday night in Cardiff, where the roof will be closed on the Millennium Stadium and with no climatic excuses for either side not to unleash something more attack minded than has been in the offing this Six Nations Championship to date.

But flair conjures up an association with the French, as was conceded by the Wales forwards coach, Robin McBryde, on the eve of the match. “It’s part of French identity along with a strong scrum,” he said. “It’s that balance with the swing of the hips and offloading game they’ve got. They’ve important individuals and threats with the ball in hand. The challenge is to create space.”

France versus Wales has the danger of being nullified as a contest of running rugby. Wales under defensive coach Shaun Edwards are the masters of stifling any offensive threat, an approach that looks likely to be a cornerstone of their game tonight.

McBryde said: “You know Shaun, he’s never happy when we concede a try and we’ve conceded a couple in the first two games.”

Under new management, France have been a work in progress. There have been moments of promise and it’s worth noting that they arrived in Cardiff with two wins from their opening two games against Italy and Ireland, while Wales could only draw with the Irish before edging a tight contest against Scotland the following weekend.

And it’s not always been a case of thank God it’s Friday in the Welsh capital either, the home side having played four Friday night encounters and lost two of them, although the last in 2014 ended with a 27-6 victory over the French, who should be more accustomed to Friday night rugby, with it being a regular fixture in the Top 14.

While France are finding their feet, Wales are well established, the back row of Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton reunited for their 29th international start but with the warning that even Warburton as captain faces the threat of the axe if he is not up to scratch.

Lydiate is in at the expense of Justin Tipuric who, along with the wing Tom James, who makes way for Alex Cuthbert and drops out of the 23 altogether, is harshly treated in being dropped. The only forced change is Bradley Davies in for the injured Luke Charteris, while France have made a total of five changes, testament perhaps to Novès still trying to settle on his best side.

A full World Cup cycle has passed since France were last victorious over Wales, who are now unbeaten in six Six Nations games and with their sights on a fourth Six Nations title of their coach Warren Gatland’s tenure.

But McBryde warned the cauldron of a Friday night in Cardiff could work to both sides’ advantage. “It’s home advantage, it’s a stadium we thrive in,” he explained, “but it’s a double-edged sword, as sometimes opponents thrive on it as well. Speak to any player, they enjoy it here. If we can make it a bit harder, all the better.”

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